by Dick Lemieux

In her Nov. 5 letter, Jennifer J. Smith questions whether the Downeaster’s average occupancy can be only 20 passengers per train. She counters with her own estimate that it carries about 150 passengers per trip. It’s an irrelevant statistic, but it’s enough to confirm her belief that the Downeaster is “one of Amtrak’s most popular services with fantastic growth.” That’s irrelevant, too.

When comparing transport modes for their air pollution impact, the only factors that matter are vehicle occupancy and vehicle emission rates.

The Downeaster’s 2017 Agency Profile shows it carried 40,742,740 passenger miles on trains that traveled 2,144,482 revenue train miles, for an average of 19 passengers per vehicle.

Per vehicle mile, a Downeaster train produces as much carbon dioxide as 39 cars, as much sulfur dioxide as 72 cars, as much nitrogen oxides as 140 cars and consumes as much energy as 48 cars. Yet, the Downeaster carries the passenger equivalent of just 19 cars with one occupant each.

Why does this matter? It matters because 213 House representatives and 14 senators voted “aye” to advance a $300 million rail project in New Hampshire that has no chance of producing better metrics. Gov. Sununu allowed it to go forward without his signature. All three candidates for governor are rail supporters.

Probably none of them would knowingly vote for a project that would pollute our beautiful state but, based on misconceptions, all of them have unknowingly done just that.

Mr. Lemieux is a retired highway engineer and transportation planner with more than 30 years’ experience reviewing multimodal transportation plans from NH to Hawaii.